Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home
Paul Simon – American Tune
The word evokes some of the most vivid imagery in our lives. The lone student defying tanks in Tiananmen Square,MLK’s speech at the Washington Mall, the procession of grave markers on the hills of Normandy, four dead on a campus lawn in Ohio, Reagan’s call beside the Berlin Wall, the self-immolating Tunisian merchant, mobs amassing in a city square to topple some regime. Perhaps vicariously, we store our own image catalog, perhaps sifted through an ideological, interpretative filter we may not even realize we have.
Too often, though, we treat freedom as dependent upon an institutional grant or construct, when I think it is more than that.
I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
For we’ve lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
We’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong
We all have a story of failure, disappointment, loss, even tragedy. Too often, we want to shovel that deeply out of sight of ourselves and others. We are desperate to be untethered from those times, and instead become unhinged from the very experiences that have made us who we are. Resilience, stamina, patience, hope come from somewhere, and they don’t come from outside us; they do not come from success.
In my coaching work, I may not use the word freedom, but it infuses every conversation. The word, or its more nuanced expression, stirs something in people, perhaps even a belief in themselves that they have stuffed away for another day. Freedom is not just civil liberty; it is a belief that the only boundaries to being more, doing more, mattering more are those we place on ourselves. While freedom may be a statutory right on an societal level, on a personal level it is a decision. Coming to an understanding of our own freedom unleashes creativity, drive, purpose.
I visited the Newseum in Washington DC last month where one of the exhibits featured a few remaining concrete buttresses of the Berlin Wall. Nearby was the infamous photo of an armed German soldier leaping over a nest of barbed wire to freedom. Whether he was to make it to the other side or be felled by a guard’s bullet, he still would have been free.
The last few years have held lessons enough to understand that this notion of liberty and freedom is deeply personal as much as it is collective. We see real images every day or people straining to be free, finally summoning the resolve to overcome forces arrayed against them. Most revolutions centered on true freedom were sparked by an individual who made that first step, then others followed.
So true in our own lives. You would think that the courage to be honest about our own lives would pale agains the heroics of revolutionary history, but oddly we struggle to do it.
Jefferson had it right when he posited the notion that liberty is something that God intended to be inherent in the human spirit. The yearning to be free is inside of each of us; so, too, is the capacity.
It takes a lot of work. Often more work than we imagined. I think we face that mound of work in America, coming to grips with the world around us and our role in coaxing others to step over that barbed wire and to be there for them on the other side. Even inside our borders, we have a lot of work ahead in embracing the awkward truth that freedom, by its nature, is both individual and collective, that ideas can only flourish amid a bit of chaos, that people can only truly adopt beliefs when they have the freedom to do so.
It takes a lot of work in our personal lives as well. There is no shortage of opportunities, only an abundance of reasons why we do not see them, pursue them, suffer the indignities that often come with striving for them, marshaling the courage to persist. When people have the guts to see truths in their lives, and put in the hard word to serve a purpose larger then themselves, they understand freedom for what it really is.
Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest